MARYLAND’S GOVERNOR-ELECT, Larry Hogan, whose victory rested largely on a promise to revive the state’s economy, faces an almost immediate opportunity to prove his pro-business bona fides. The issue is a critical one: whether to go ahead with the 16-mile Purple Line light rail project north of the District.
If Mr. Hogan, a Republican, gives a green light to the Purple Line, it would be an early sign that he intends to govern as a job-creating chief executive. If he pulls the plug on the project, and he suggested during the campaign that he might, he would cast doubt on that commitment — and, in the process, signal that he is more partisan than pragmatic.
Mr. Hogan has long been a skeptic on the state’s big pending mass transit projects: the Purple Line, which would connect Bethesda, in Montgomery County, to New Carrollton, in Prince George’s; and Baltimore’s Red Line. Late in the campaign, he softened that stance, saying he was “not really opposed” to the $2.5 billion Purple Line or the $2.6 billion Red Line but believed that road projects had been short-changed by raids on transportation funds during and after the recession. (That problem was resolved by Marylanders who voted Tuesday to “lock up” future transportation funding for projects.)
The choice between roads and transit is a genuine policy question; it’s also an overtly political one. Since road-dependent rural and semi-rural counties voted heavily for Mr. Hogan while more transit-reliant ones like Montgomery and Prince George’s are Democratic bastions, he could simply reward the state’s red counties and punish the blue ones.
That would be a mistake. The state needs roads and transit alike. But Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are Maryland’s economic engine, and their future dynamism is bound up with transit projects that appeal to young, creative professionals — exactly the people the state needs to attract to enhance its competitiveness.
By delaying or killing the Purple Line — a project that has already been approved for $900 million in federal funding — Mr. Hogan would impede Maryland’s efforts to modernize and develop. And he would be turning his back on big and small job creators who are banking on the Purple Line — not least, the four construction and engineering giants that have bid on the project and await the selection of a winner in early January.
The Purple Line’s benefits are multiple. It has transit benefits as a people-mover. It holds the promise of helping to revive run-down neighborhoods, especially in Prince George’s County. And it will provide an important boost to the University of Maryland at College Park, the state’s flagship institution of higher education.
In a news conference Wednesday, Mr. Hogan indicated that he had made no final decision on the Purple Line. “We’re going to be talking about that during the transition,” he said.
It’s an encouraging sign that the governor-elect is keeping an open mind. No doubt, he will hear anti-transit views from officials in rural and red parts of the state who represent big parts of his base. Let’s hope he also solicits opinions from business interests — the job creators whose success Mr. Hogan has promised to promote.
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